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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

When the USDOE Revoked Our NCLB Waiver

By Jo Moccia — May 04, 2014 3 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Jo Moccia, Ed.D., the Superintendent of South Whidbey Island School District in Langley, Washington.

Washington is a unique place in which to live and work, especially in education. We recently became known for being the first state to have its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal requirements waiver revoked. The primary reason for the loss of our NCLB waiver was due to the fact that we did not tie state assessment results to individual teacher evaluations.

Tying these (flawed) assessments to the evaluation of a teacher serves no one; especially our students. Tying the state assessments to teacher evaluations creates a climate in which teachers are fearful and unwilling to take risks on behalf of their students. Teachers, regardless of working with a supportive administrator or not, become concerned about stepping outside of their comfort zones to create diverse learning experiences for their students.

This becomes harmful to our students, and creates a snowball effect, where school is more about a score, and less about learning. Learning should be at the center of what we are doing, and a heavy-handed accountability system that focuses on punishment and not on collaborative learning is wrong. It does not promote collaborative relationships among teachers so that they can help all students be as successful as possible.

Losing the waiver is symptomatic of an over-reaching and flawed federal law.

Authentic Teacher Evaluation - Washington has been able to achieve a teacher evaluation system that focuses on student growth and celebrates learning. For example, we are able to use a standardized assessment that measures growth between two established points in time. The idea that a state assessment, given within a short window of time, at a certain point in the year, somehow measures the value of a student or a teacher is illogical and flawed.

People are not all the same and do not all progress at the same level or at the same time. Do all children learn to walk at a certain age? Does this single milestone measure the value or success of a parent? Can a single point in a school year really measure the effectiveness of a teacher?

We want all students to maximize their potential and to be taught by highly qualified and motivated teachers. How do we help all students make progress? By creating a system that promotes student growth and measures progress accurately and fairly.

We often hear about Finland’s educational system as a model to aspire to.... How can we do it? Make it tough to become a teacher, value them as professionals, and pay them a salary that demonstrates the value we place on their work.

Does this sound familiar?

It is how we treat medical doctors. It is hard to get into medical school. It takes several years to achieve the degree and a lot of training. We pay them well, expect them to learn continuously and hold them in high regard. Teaching should be honored and valued.

As educators, we educate all students, from every socio-economic level. As much as it is natural to compare what we do with other countries, politicians and policymakers seem to ignore our poverty rates, size and diversity when “scores” are released. We cannot compare ourselves to foreign school achievement where many students are the top performers and those who are not, are placed in programs specifically tailored for instruction in the trades.

Washington State is on the right track and should be applauded for not bowing to the pressure of a flawed system named NCLB. Those on the outside should not punish us for doing things differently, but learn from us, and see where our professional practices can be replicated.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.